25 years with the Indians, and counting
JUN 25, 2013 11:15a ET
You probably wouldn’t know him if you saw him. But if you are a Cleveland Indians fan, you have probably bumped into Ken Carr at one time or another.
Be it spring training, at Progressive Field, or at one of the minor league ballparks, the man with the faded safari hat, glasses, and cameras has been shooting pictures for close to 25 years. You name the player, if he has played in the Indians organization the past quarter century, he has seen him and shot pictures of him.
However, Carr did not start out as a professional photographer.
In fact, Carr jumped right into the workforce after he graduated from Akron East High School in 1952, becoming an apprentice machinist at Goodyear. He dabbled through two years of college at the University of Akron and Kent State University, but remained with Goodyear for 44 years where he eventually moved into a supervisor role, traveling the country to assist with machine installations.
But Carr always had a love for photography. Using an old one-shot camera, he started taking football and basketball pictures in high school as the editor for the school newspaper. He continued with photography on the side while he worked at Goodyear, but he did not do much sports photography from 1960-1989.
In 1989, everything changed. That was the year the Indians Double-A affiliate moved to Canton-Akron, right down the street from where Carr lived.
An avid baseball lover since 1940, Carr was interested to get to know the new Canton-Akron team, so he went to Tucson for spring training. He picked up a new Minolta camera with a 300 zoom lens, started taking pictures, and the rest is history.
“I was in Tucson taking pictures through the fence,” Carr recalled. “The minor league players stayed in the Aztec Hotel there in Tucson and I took pictures up to the minor league players and showed them to them. Jose Morales was the hitting coach for the Indians and saw me showing pictures to these ballplayers and he asked me how I got them and I told him. He said, ‘how would you like to get inside that fence?’ I was like, ‘oh boy, I would love it.’ So he got me a pass and I took some pictures of the pitchers on the big league ball club and gave them to him for studies and I was on my way.”
On his way indeed.
Carr quickly got in with Canton-Akron management and started taking pictures for their ball cards in 1990. Soon after, he was taking pictures for other Indians affiliates in Burlington (NC), Columbus (GA), Kinston (NC), Watertown (NY), and Buffalo (NY). As those affiliates moved closer to home over the years, he began taking pictures for Akron, Mahoning Valley, and Lake County.
Over time, Carr invested thousands of dollars in new cameras and lenses, and then with the digital boom he had to spend thousands more on new cameras. What initially started out as a hobby has turned into quite a story for the now 79-year old retiree.
“I just love baseball and will go to any extent to see it,” Carr said. “I am 79 years old and I credit the ballplayers for the health I am in. They keep me jumping.”
Carr is a big time Cleveland sports fan. As a 12-year old, he was at the first Browns game in 1946 where he watched an exhibition game at the Akron Rubber Bowl. He had Browns season tickets for a long time, watching the likes of Otto Graham, Jim Brown and others. But the Cleveland Indians are his first love.
Former Indians great Rocky Colavito was Carr’s favorite player, and he still gets a little emotional when thinking back to the day he was traded for Harvey Kuenn. The departures of Victor Martinez and Jim Thome were also traumatic experiences for him, but the trade of Colavito is one that left him scarred forever.
“The saddest thing that I ever had happen to me in baseball was when they traded Rocky Colavito,” Carr said. “That is the only time I ever cried over a ballplayer and I was 25-years old when they traded him. That destroyed me when he got traded. I was sitting in my sister-in-law’s driveway when the news broke on the radio. It was the most miserable day of my life. We were supposed to go there to eat, but I was unable to eat. It really did destroy me.”
Over the years Carr has been fortunate to get to know just about everyone that has donned a uniform with Chief Wahoo on it. He has shared a few dinners with Omar Vizquel, become friends with players like Victor Martinez, Manny Ramirez and Brandon Phillips, and has had players stay with him over the years when they played at Canton-Akron and Akron.
“Paul Byrd was one of my favorites,” Carr recalled. “He stayed with me for a while when he was with Canton-Akron. Jim Thome naturally was one of my favorites, and Manny Ramirez was really close to me. He used to con me into taking photographs of him in his street clothes to give to his girlfriends.”
Carr hates to single any one player out, but he probably grew closest to Jim Thome. Their friendship began in 1990 when Thome was entering his first full season. The Indians were transitioning him from shortstop to third base, and he was really struggling in spring training.
“He was a nobody who hit .237 at Burlington and people were saying things about him,” Carr said. “After practice and I went up to him – I did not know him from Adam – and he was standing by the fence looking down at the ground and I said, ‘young man you look like you could use a friend’ and he said ‘I sure could.’ I said, ‘how would you like to have dinner with my wife and I tonight?’ and he said ‘I’d love it.” We got to be friends and it was very exciting when he made it to the big leagues. It was almost like he was one of my own sons. I held him like a son and awful close to me. One of my favorite pictures is of Thome’s family that I got at the All Star game in 1997.”
Carr has also endeared himself to a lot of the Latin ballplayers over the years. With the shock that comes with playing in a new country, a lot of the Latin players often keep to themselves and have very few keepsakes from their time in the minors. Carr has been generous, often giving them sets of photos to share with their families.
Carr quickly became known as “Photo Man” by the Latin ballplayers, and it was not until spring training in 2001 that he realized the impact he had on them. The Indians had signed outfielder Juan Gonzalez to a major league contract just months earlier and he often kept to himself and did not say much, but one day after practice he approached Carr with a signed bat.
“I had never spoke to him before and I looked at him and said ‘what’s this for?’ and he said ‘for all you do for the Latin ballplayers, I appreciate it’,” Carr recalled. “He never said another word to me after that.”
The respect and admiration that Carr has built in the Indians minor league community over the years is a testament to his charm and the warmth he brings.
“I personally try to talk to every ballplayer on the team and get to know them,” Carr said. “It always hurts me when they get released. You get to know all of these kids. They all are your favorite and close to you. I love every one of them.”
Carr has seen the changes in the photo industry the past few years. When he started, they used film that allowed 36 shots in a roll of film and were at the mercy of the development process to see what kind of photos they took. Nowadays, you can shoot up to 20-22 shots just in one pitch sequence.
Technology has also allowed more amateurs to slip into the business with inexpensive SLR cameras.
“It has changed dramatically,” Carr said about the photography industry. “Now, it is immediate and there is no delay. When I did the World Series in 1995 and 1997 they had carriers that came to the camera bays, and if you got a real good shot of something they would take your pictures and develop them right there and send them to the wire services and so on and so forth. Now you just delete the pictures on your camera that are no good. It is dramatically changed with the speed of the cameras. It is amazing.”
These days Carr is not as involved as he used to be. The Indians no longer allow him in the camera well at Progressive Field because of safety concerns, though they do give him a pass to roam the stands as he pleases. He also no longer does as many ball cards.
Carr has also battled some health issues over the past few years with prostate and skin cancer, a stroke, knee replacement, and a brief loss of sight in his left eye. Next spring will be the first time he misses a spring training since his first one in 1989, as he and his lovely wife Shirley are going to Alaska to celebrate their 61st wedding anniversary.
But he has no plans to stop shooting pictures.
“The Indians have been good to me for 25 years, so as long as I am able to it I will be taking pictures,” Carr said. “I have to keep going. It keeps me feeling young. I’m an old-timer that just can’t get it out of my blood, but I am rounding third and heading home.”
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